National hysteria over one woman’s death

The debate over the sanctity of life

Americans can't make up their minds about the sanctity of human life, said Joan Smith in the London Independent. When President George W. Bush signed an extraordinary law aimed at extending Terry Schiavo's life, he justified the federal intervention by saying it was 'œwise to always err on the side of life.' Of course, this is the same man who, as governor of Texas, repeatedly failed to err on that particular side in capital punishment cases. This is also the man who launched two wars of choice, killing thousands of innocent—and incidentally, not brain-dead—Afghans and Iraqis. But the hypocrisy goes further than just the White House. Americans and their elected officials in Congress consistently reject even the most rudimentary gun-control reforms; they apparently believe that the 'œright to bear arms' is more important than the 'œright to life' of the more than 30,000 shooting victims each year. In the wake of yet another school massacre, the whole Terry Schiavo debate seems 'œlike a surreal joke.'

Except nobody's laughing, said Markus Günther in Stuttgart, Germany's Stuttgarter Zeitung. The Americans are smearing one another as either 'œconscience-free monsters' or 'œrigid Christian fundamentalists'—and they're not the only ones. All over the world, the rest of us have been gripped by the Schiavo saga, and we are just as polarized. Schiavo, though brain-damaged, is not suffering from any disease. If she were fed, she could live for decades in her vegetative state. Removing her feeding tube, therefore, can plausibly be seen as murder, the first step on a slippery slope that could lead to active euthanasia of the disabled. But it can also plausibly be seen as simply 'œallowing her a natural death.' It's a complex moral question, and the U.S. public is right to take it seriously.

We Europeans like to assume that we've already answered such questions, said Helmut Hetzel in Vienna's Die Presse. Most countries here had their euthanasia debates decades ago. But this case is different. Even in the Netherlands, which has the most permissive euthanasia laws, 'œa Schiavo-style impasse could arise.' Dutch law allows active or passive euthanasia only under strict conditions: The patient must be terminally ill and in pain, and two different doctors and a state examiner have to rule on the case. Crucially, the family must also approve. In a case like Schiavo's, in which family members disagree, even the Dutch courts might have trouble.

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